How to Handle Screen Time Over Winter Break

By Andrea Nelson
December 19, 2023
Group of teens together

Winter break: that time of the year when we bake cookies and wrap presents and … listen to our children beg for extra screen time. (Or is that just me?) If you’re dreading the impending device battles when your child is out of school, you’re not alone. Read on for ideas on how to handle school holiday screen time rules.

Decide what’s right for your family

Consider your family’s plans for the break and decide on your priorities. Perhaps you have family coming to visit, and it’s important to you that your kids not be glued to their screens while Grandma’s here. Or maybe you cherish certain seasonal activities like playing in the snow or decorating a Christmas tree. 

The screen-free activities you want to prioritize during this time of year can serve as a framework for making screen time decisions. That way you’re plugging in screen time around the things you value, creating a sense of adding on, rather than taking away. 

Reframing screen time

As a parent, it’s easy to view screen time as a necessary evil. But for many kids, it can be a valuable rest for their brain. 

As adults, we often unwind from a long day in front of the TV or playing a game on our phone, and kids are no different. Recognizing that a little extra screen time during break may help your child return to school refreshed can help reframe the issue for you. 

Consider using screen time as an opportunity to teach your child about their brain. Mention how hard they’ve been working at school and that you’re letting them have some extra screen time as a brain break. Couple this with a discussion about additional ways they can unwind, such as reading or playing. 

Let go of the guilt

Screen time habits are best viewed as a whole, not by looking at one slice of time. If you’ve decided to be more lenient with devices over break, try to let go of any accompanying guilt. The limits you set on a regular basis are more important than what happens on any individual day. 

By the same token, if you feel it’s best to stick with your regular screen time limits during break, that’s okay, too. You don’t have to give your kids extra screen time when they’re out of school just because their friends get it. Do what’s right for your family. 

Make it special

Experts are clear that not all screen time is created equal. The AACAP recommends encouraging using screens in ways that build connections with family and friends. Family movie night or playing video games with a sibling are two ideas for using screens to foster togetherness. 

Don’t remove all the guardrails

As with most things in life, moderation is the key. Rather than giving your kids carte blanche over their devices, adjust the limits you already have in place. It’s best to remain firm on things like screen-free zones and no-device times, such as family meals. 

Plan screen-free activities

From ice skating to gingerbread houses to marathon reading sessions, winter break is the perfect time for fun activities that are hard to fit in during school. If you give your kids plenty of options that don’t involve a screen, you might even find they don’t use all their extra device time at all. 

Set clear expectations

Going into break, sit down as a family and talk about what screen time will look like while school is out. Explain that, while there may be some extra screen time, there will still be reasonable limits. If there are days during break where you anticipate no time for screens (such as a visit from relatives or a trip to the mountains), give your kids a heads-up. Most children can roll with things a lot better if they know what to expect. 

In short

Winter break is a fantastic time for engaging in some extra fun. A little additional screen time can be one piece of the pie, but make sure to set clear expectations and sprinkle in other activities as well. 

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